How the Toronto Raptors rebrand brought a nation together.


With the 2016 National Basketball Association playoffs now over, every team in the league will take time to look back on their respective season and analyse the successes and failures the past year has brought.

This past season marked the 70th in the leagues history, with Game 7 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors peaking at 44.5 million viewers during its broadcast, making it the most watched NBA game since 1998.

But before we watched LeBron James silence the doubters, there was another story that was being told north of the border. The Toronto Raptors are the only team outside of the United States to represent Canada in the NBA following the relocation of the Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001.

Always deemed the underdog in any matchup, the Raptors fought there way to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. It was a moment that saw not only the city of Toronto come together but the entire country of Canada. The country united in support of the team that nobody thought could win. Whilst the grit, determination and dedication of the players and fans is what fuelled their most successful playoff run. The work to establish the Raptors as a worthy competitor in the league started way before the preseason games or NBA Draft. It started with a rebrand.

Earlier versions of the Toronto team saw a illustrated Raptor on the logo, with a deep purple being one of the primary colours.  

Whilst this style worked in the 90’s with bold colours and a unique mascot, Toronto was not being taken seriously in the league. Since the departure of Chris Bosh in 2010, the Raptors struggled to find their brand identity, their story, their beliefs. If they couldn’t see it, how could their fans? What the franchise needed was new life breathed into it, to tell their story in a way that would get people to believe in the team once more and stand behind them as proud supporters. 

Enter Drake. In 2013, the Grammy award winning, Toronto born-and-bred musician set out on a mission to help reenergise the Toronto Raptors’ tired look and feel. A lifelong supporter himself, Drake set out to show that the Raptors should be taken seriously.

With this in mind, a promotional video was released in 2014 with Drake doing the voiceover. The message was clear, Toronto are not just here to compete in the league, but to win the whole thing. With a completely new attitude, the Raptors rebranded and relaunched on the foundation of a simple slogan: “We the North”. It embodied everything the franchise stood for. National pride, leadership, determination and will. They wanted to show that they were ready to represent an entire nation and do them proud.

 

As far as rebrands go, it was a slam dunk.

 

 

The new primary logo is simple yet impactful, using what the team describes as ”a circular shield with a ball torn by the unmistakable attack of a Raptor". This kept the established mascot in place, but presented a more aggressive look and feel, creating an unmistakeable icon in the league to represent the team well. The purple was dropped, the new main colours being red and white on a black backdrop, representing the colours of the Canadian flat.

Whilst the Raptors lost in the third round to the now champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the season was not a failure. In the midst of a wild crowd chanting “Let’s go Raptors”, amongst a sea of black, red and white - LeBron James, the King himself and widely regarded as one of the best to play the game, said on national television at the end of the series “Much respect to these fans, to this country. This is unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of something like this in my 13 year career.” 

 

The Raptors weren’t just a team now, they were a force. They weren’t something you played, they were something you experience. They may not have won the championship, but they won respect from their opponents with 3 consecutive appearances in the post season now under their belts

The Toronto Raptors are a prime example of how the way you tell your story can completely change how others see you.

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